5 ways to be a marketing maverick and break the rules

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I am pretty proud to say I live in the childhood stomping ground of a music legend. 

Ziggy Stardust himself – or David Bowie, as he was also known. 

“There’s a staaaaarmaaaaaan waiting in the sky…”

That’ll be stuck in your head all day now (you’re welcome). 

David Bowie became a legend largely thanks to his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

A record that broke all the rules. Rules about what an album should sound like. How it should be constructed. And all the gender norms that shaped how a rock star should look and behave. 

Just like the music industry, marketing is full of “rules”.

Heck, there are plenty of blog posts on this here website that are full of expertise and knowledge. “Rules” we’ve learnt through years of experience and training. 

Learning the best way to do things has a place.

But so does stepping out of those rules and creating something truly original, like Bowie did.

In this blog post I’m going to share with you five ways you could break the rules in your marketing. 

I’ll throw in some examples of how brands have turned their backs on convention – and ended up with some amazing campaigns because of their rebellious attitude.  

AND I’ll give you a top tip to help ensure your rule-breaking doesn’t get you a detention. 

Unbranded Content Advocacy 

You know that friend who always talks about themelves? Meeting up with them is more like attending a one-person theatre show. 

Well, a lot of brands are like that. All of their content is just about their products and the rave reviews they’re getting. 

But nowadays a lot of people also care about the values of the brands they’re buying from. And they want to feel part of a movement, not like they’re just undertaking a transaction. 

That’s why breaking the rules and sharing unbranded content that supports a social cause can be a great way to enhance your brand’s reputation.

Hillarys, the UK blinds specialist, did a great job of this when they chose to create a “Lost Sleep Calculator”. Research from prominent sleep science organisations had shown Hillarys the impact of not getting enough sleep.

So they shared this tool to raise awareness and help people check if those nights spent storming the dance floor/hustling/staring at the ceiling meant they weren’t catching enough ZZZs. 

Apart from putting their name, tagline, and a brief statement about what they do at the bottom of the page, it was all unbranded. 

Top tip!

Many brands have fallen short when it comes to this. With embarrassingly misjudged results. 

It’s got to be a cause or issue that’s relevant and that you are a long-term supporter of. Don’t just jump on a bandwagon to get attention.

Content Silence Strategy

Consistency is considered vital when it comes to content creation. So you might worry that, if you don’t keep talking about your brand, your audience will forget you. 

However, silence can garner attention too. Just for different reasons. 

If it fits with your brand’s persona, going quiet for a period before a new product launch can create anticipation and curiosity. 

Sound-cancelling headphones master Bose has done an incredible job of this. 

Bose often relies on understated marketing and avoids flashy, attention-grabbing campaigns. Instead, it opts for more relaxed, understated campaigns, which can make consumers curious about the brand and its products.

Bose allows the products to speak for themselves. And the only way to find out if they are as good as they seem…is to buy them.

Top tip!

This only works if your product/service and brand personality fit with creating mystery and intrigue. If you’re the “ordinary person” or “caregiver” personality, for example, and you sell nappies or toilet paper, it probably won’t fly. 

Collaborative Critique Campaigns 

Businesses are like babies.

Precious things we’ve nurtured and protected from infancy. 

So it’s natural that we’re wary of handing over the marketing reins to anyone else. 

What if they say something mean about our precious offspring?

But collaborating with customers and allowing them to influence your marketing can be an extremely effective way of raising brand awareness and building trust with your audience.

Starbucks nailed this back in 2014 with their White Cup Contest.  

Starbucks noticed their customers were doodling on their plain white takeaway coffee cups and sharing their designs on social media.

So the coffee franchise ran a three-week competition, asking people to submit their cup doodles. The winners would then have their doodles printed on a limited-edition reusable cup. 

They had nearly 4,000 entries, won some kudos with customers and got the chance to highlight their reusable cup and their commitment to sustainability.

Top tip!

This could be an effective way of highlighting your differentiating elements and help you stand out from your competitors. 

Empowerment Over Aspiration

Nowadays, when it comes to content, brands have been moving away from the ideal in favour of what’s real. 

True, lots of brands are still going for the aspirational look. 

Eva Longoria is still prancing around showing off her glossy locks on the Pantene adverts and looking pretty darn good doing it. 

As long as it isn’t misused (to be fair, I don’t remember my hair ever looking like Eva Longoria’s after using Pantene just saying) it’s logical and effective.

And it’s easy to think this is the only way to sell products. After all, why would people invest money in products or services if they aren’t going to make their lives better?

But what if your brand’s content didn’t make customers feel like they need to change? What if it encouraged them to be who they are? 

Remember Always’ campaign #LikeAGirl from 2015? 

They took a well-known phrase that was often used against women and turned it around. Upending the idea that it’s bad to do things “like a girl”.

It was a massive confidence boost for young women and girls. 

Instead of focusing on the product and trying to make it look appealing (a tough task with period products), Always’ campaign forged an emotional connection with the customer. 

Top tip!

Find your audience’s enemy. What are they struggling with in life? And how can you use your content to make it a common enemy?

Deconstructed Narratives

Storytelling is an essential component of marketing (duh, Jeni, we know!) 

But breaking storytelling rules can also be a powerful way to make your marketing stand out. 

Good novels tend to follow a certain structure and have the same elements. 

Hero/Enemy. Conflict/Resolution. 

But all the good novelists will tell you that you learn the rules so that you can break them spectacularly. Take the male grooming industry. 

It’s always telling the same old story.

Handsome man needs to look good, but has skin problems from using cheap razors. 

He finds the brand’s razor. 

Wow – it has how many blades? 

And woah – that’s the closest shave he’s ever had!

Somehow it’s made him ten thousand times more handsome. That jawline is now as sharp as a great white shark’s incisor. 

Off he goes to absolutely nail that board meeting/sports game/sold-out rock concert.

It’s meant to be a classic hero’s journey. But, now we’ve seen it a hundred times, it’s all a bit…bleh. 

Dollar Shave Club took a different approach in their launch video. The founder delivered a monologue to the camera, talking about the problems with the traditional razor brands.  

It caught you off guard with unexpected humour and an offbeat tone. And that perfectly shaved model/actor/businessman/rock star was nowhere to be seen.


Top tip!

DSC’s approach fitted their irreverent and humorous brand personality. Don’t deconstruct narratives for the sake of it. It has to ring true to your overall brand personality and messaging. 


Final word of warning

Hey you, rebel. 

I see you. 

You’re ready and raring to throw traditional methods out the window and go rogue. 

But I just want to repeat what I said at the start. 

Rules aren’t generally made to be broken. 

“The done thing” is a thing that’s done for a reason. It’s a result of proven strategies and tactics. 

So, if you break the rules, do it with intention, research, and courage.

You might just do something amazing.





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About the author

Jeni Whitchurch Copywriter
Jeni is an About Page Copywriter. She helps make selling less painful for small businesses by telling their story with strategy.

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